The recent increase within the communities exposes many people, particularly the most vulnerable, to the risk of possibly contracting the virus.
Oxfam PNG Country Director, Anand Das, explained that in response to the alarming number of new COVID-19 cases, Oxfam remains committed to supporting the work being done by Government in ensuring the safety of its citizens, especially in vulnerable communities by re-enforcing the need to adhere to COVID-19 protocols and preventative measures.
“We have observed that there is still a large number of people who are not adhering or are unable to adhere to the preventative measures enforced by Government and this is extremely worrying,” Das stated.
“The National Department of Health has also reported seeing community transmission in the National Central District, making our work in amplifying our awareness messages even more vital at this point.”
PNG lifted its COVID-19 Pandemic State of Emergency on 2 June 2020 and in the first week of July, three more cases were confirmed. Thereafter, the total number of reported cases increased to 31 and then 62 within just a few days. PNG’s Pandemic Response Controller, David Manning, just issued a statement on Sunday, August 2, that cases have now increased to 110; 72 active cases, 36 recovered and two deaths.
The PNG government has taken immediate action by restricting domestic travel, increasing provincial border checks and making wearing of masks mandatory, restricting public gatherings, imposing of curfews and intensifying contact tracing efforts.
“Testing clinics have also been set-up in various centres and the St John’s Ambulance is also providing testing services at a small fee to assist. We encourage people to take advantage of this service and most importantly to adhere to the protocols,” said Das.
He explained that there is growing concern also with the lack of understanding by the public on the need to utilise these clinics and the laxity in adhering to the preventative measures. “There is a need for more coordinated communication to re-enforce the messaging and this is where civil society organisations, NGOs and local partners can assist in reaching out to the people.”
Oxfam has initiated its COVID-19 Response Plan with support from the Australian Humanitarian Partnership Disaster Ready (DFAT) programme to spread community awareness through different forms of local and international media. Assistance received from the New Zealand government (through MFAT) is also being initiated with an integrated approach of public health projects, awareness on COVID protocols, address food and income security of vulnerable populations and supporting district and provincial administration in the response.
“With the restrictions, our immediate concern is the safety and well-being of our staff and their families as well. We are also concerned with the safety of our partners in the communities and we may consider scaling down some of our programs on the ground and focus more on risk communication and community engagement by providing more COVID-19 awareness through the media,” explained Das.
Das also added that cases are expected to increase, and Oxfam in PNG will focus on community outreach and awareness on COVID-19 protocols throughout the next 12-18 months, while concentrating on building resilience of communities through food security and nutritional activities, hand hygiene and safe sanitation and gender and inclusion, including addressing gender relations and women’s increased workloads in the long run and supporting district and provincial administration in finalising their COVID-19 Response Plans.
(The wearing of masks in public places is mandatory. Pictured are students in Morobe Province during a recent event at Nadzab)